Month: November 2014
Long-term volunteers focus on just a few subject areas
If people make a lot of contributions in a variety of different places, they’re likely going to churn. They’ll get attracted to the next thing and leave.
You want members participating in topics over which they have either a high degree of expertise or a strong emotional connection.
You want each member to feel a sense of ownership over a relatively small part of the community.
Qin et al. (2014) who studied 500k Wikipedia participants over 13 years. Those that edited just a few articles repeatedly stayed for far longer than those that engaged in lots of different activity.
Never guide a newcomer aimlessly to participate in a community. Highlight what they’re most passionate/knowledgeable about – and gradually get them more engaged within those topics. They need to feel they own a piece of the community.
We talk to prospective members before and after we launch a community.
Within a few weeks, we usually have 50+ long-interview transcripts, a clearly identified list of problems the group wants to solve (or goals they want to achieve), and a list of people who want to tackle the challenge.
Now we can launch a community around an issue members have told you they care about.
The issue has to be small enough that they can solve it (build momentum), but large enough to have an impact among the group (efficacy).
The issue must force them to interact (create social capital).
3 years ago, we worked on a community for teachers.
Every teacher says they are overwhelmed with work.
Dig deeper and they say they have too much marking, they are getting information from too many sources, they have to learn new technology too often.
We can't solve being overwhelmed. That's too big. But we can tackle that different departments each sending them information.
We solicited ideas (via the new community we sneakily created) and decided to have one simple digest of information from a single source. People that wanted the teachers to do something had to add it into next week's weekly checklist.
We then asked several of the most prominent teachers (again via the community) to begin contacting senior people to make this happen. It took a few weeks. It was a quick, easy, win.
It made the teachers feel good and realize they weren't helpless against the establishment. Next we focused on the technology problem. We arranged live webinars and feedback sessions (on the community) where teachers could suggest the best way to learn new technology.
The teachers were soon visiting the community regularly to get updates on the issue and suggest further ideas. At no point did we invite them to join a community about the topic.
The key is to personify the problem on something you can solve. Put the bigger issues aside. Focus on challenges that most members have. Then invite members to suggest ideas to resolve those challenges. Give the leaders more time and resources to tackle the issues themselves.
In 10 years, what will be left of your community today?
Will you be using the same platform?
Will the same people be there?
Will the documented knowledge still be relevant?
You probably answered no to all these questions.
Worse yet, you probably won't be involved with the community by 2024.
This doesn't mean community activity doesn't matter (nor that the community will die). Communities continually evolve. Your community matters a lot.
The only thing that will still exist in a decade is the narrative, traditions, and rituals you create today. These perpetually ripple through each generation of the commnuity.
What (or whose) hero's journey are you taking the community through presently? What challenges/obsctacles are you trying to overcome and what does the beginning/middle/end look like?
What rituals and traditions are you nudging the community to adopt which will be passed on to the next generation? Give greater attentions to the small things happening in the community which can spread across the group. Focus on tiny acts of kindness or oddities unique to your community. Use blog posts and your own participation to share these across the community and then document them in the community's history.
The only thing that will last over the long-term are the narratives, rituals, and traditions. It would be great to create some.
Successful groups die when they're on the wrong side of trends.
Imagine you run a photography community.
This group knows everything about expensive cameras.
Then Instagram appears. Members unite in hate against it. They declare this isn't 'real' photography. It doesn't take much skill. They belittle any member that talks about it.
Sadly, the Instagram community grows steadily and membership of the photography community plummets. Eventually, even the most diehard member switches over.
This isn't an exception. It's core reason why most successful communities die.
Every single community is in danger of this happening.
You can stay true to your unique vision, interpretation, or definition of the topic. But it becomes irrelevant if you're crushed in the long-run. Create a separate place to accomodate the very topics that many members are most skeptical about.
It's surprisingly easy for an antagonist to stir up a desire for greater group autonomy.
They simply highlight powers the group doesn't have. This message spreads quickly.
You can't tackle this by highlighting the benefits of the status quo.
That status quo, the contentment with the existing arrangement, is now an accepted norm. The group simply wants more.
Yet the antagonist can only succeed if three conditions exist. 1) The group feels they might get the powers (i.e. a weak state), 2) if there are existing powers to be devolved to the group 3) there exists an acceptable alternative (usually a separation or intense conflict).
Consider nationalism causes in recent years. The Arab uprising, Scottish independence, and (to a lesser extent) Ukraine. In each there existed a group who felt disenfranchised, possible powers to gain, and a perceived weakness in the bigger organisation. The only thing missing was the (unpredictable) spark.
These situations occur online as much as they do offline. Many organisations face rebellion from their own stakeholders feeling disenfranchised. Ning's customers are proactively coordinating moves to other platforms on the Ning forums.
This feeling is especially strong if the group feels they helped make the company successful
Four approaches to resolving a group uprising
Organizations typically take one of four approaches to resolving this problem. Each has mixed success.
1) Never be perceived as weak
Some organisations respond to this by ensuring they show no sign of weakness, no attempt at negotiation, and no hint of devolution. This can work if you're Apple, but it rarely succeeds over the long-term. Don't do this.
2) Explain why powers cannot be devolved
If there are clear legal, moral, or technical reasons why greater powers cannot be shared, you can explain them. For example, you can't let members have access to the community's database. You have to protect the rights of members to have minority, conflicting, opinions too.
However, this can risk sounding patronizing and paternalistic and inflame group emotions.
3) Undermine the antagonist
This is surprisingly effective. The antagonist typically wants greater power for his or her self. If you can highlight moments of hypocrisy, character flaws, or otherwise undermine the antagonist, the issue fades until a new antagonist arrives. The danger here is an attack on the antagonist is perceived as an attack on the group and hardens their resolve.
4) Devolve greater powers to the group
The best method is preventative. Devolve enough powers now to prevent a group uprising later.
Make an honest assessment of the autonomy of the group. What more could you give to the group now? Typically, you might want to devolve the following:
- The power for group members to create their own content which appears on the site (Moz does this well).
- The power to decide the membership criteria and to remove members (be careful of attacks against minority opinions).
- The power to determine moderation rules.
- The power to organize and host their own events.
- The power to contact a clear representative within the organisation who can answer their questions and make the necessary changes.
- The power to select representatives to speak to the organization on behalf of the group.
The danger of this approach is it emboldens the antagonist to push for more.
But what if you were to devolve these powers to the group now before an antagonist arrives?
If you introduce two people, it’s hard to comprehend the value you’ve created.
It might be nothing.
It might be a lifelong friendship, future work opportunities, an amazing new collaboration project, or simple more social capital.
If you have someone, perhaps you, perhaps a volunteer, ideally a group of volunteers who introduces members to people most like them (by occupation, by location, by common challenges) you will immediately increase the value of a community to that member.
Most communities don’t have more than 10 to 15 new people joining a day. This is an easy win.
Some groups, like The Community Roundtable, do a great job of this.
Most communities don't do it at all.
Last week we had a terrific time hosting FeverBee SPRINT.
The speakers were terrific and we're keen for those that weren't at the event to see the slides too. You can find them all below:
Saul Alinsky noted this 78 years ago.
If you try to build a community for a group of people (especially within an existing boundary i.e. employees), they tend to react the same way.
First, they're skeptical.
They don't know you. They don't have time for the community. They're worried that the community will change a status quo that benefits them. During this stage you might be true to your vision. You must not compromise. You must remain enthusiastic and keep pushing. You must work with the rare believers in your vision, not those against it.
Second, they're incredulous.
They can't believe it's succeeding. Why are people going along with this? Are they crazy? They set an increasingly angry tone. You must not react/respond to them. Don't give them any cause to unite against you. Be open to any questions they have. Don't let them provoke a negative reaction that will undermine your efforts.
Third, they accept it.
They're members. This is quite sudden. Once they realize they're in danger of being left behind, they become members. Don't bring up any past negativity they have expressed. If they accept you, you must accept them without recourse.
The worst thing you can do during this process is to be exposed as a fraud. It's to take an action that, if exposed to a broader group, will undermine your work. Every action you take must be aligned with the goal to build a community.